Archie Manning Loves His City, But His Kids More
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - The scene was Joe's Stone Crab restaurant in South Beach - a Miami institution since the 1920s - on Friday night before Super Bowl XLIV.
The packed place had a definite Who Dat feel.
"More than half of the restaurant had people from New Orleans," Superdome general manager Doug Thornton said. "It was wild."
And then in walks Archie Manning, his wife Olivia, their sons Cooper and Eli and their wives.
"It was incredible," Thornton said. "I think most people understand Archie loves the Saints and New Orleans, but he's got to pull for his son. And Archie means so much to New Orleans. People love him even if he is pulling against the Saints."
New Orleans did vote for a mayor on Saturday, and veteran native sportscaster Ed Daniels had an idea who would have won had he entered.
"If Archie would have run, Mitch Landrieu and John Georges would have been toast," Daniels said. "He's our city's great ambassador."
He probably would not have enough time in between watching his sons play football.
Archie and Olivia's middle child was busy Friday night with his team. Peyton Manning is the quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts and will lead his team in the Super Bowl tonight against the team his dad quarterbacked from 1971 until 1982 and one of his favorite teams - the New Orleans Saints.
Kickoff is at approximately 6:30 p.m. ET in Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens.
"I'm trying to have fun now," Archie Manning said at mid-week. "I'll be nervous Sunday. I will be so nervous Sunday. If you want to know the truth, it's six hours of stress on Sundays if one of the boys is playing at 1 and the other at 3:30. It's hard watching your kids in that hard, tough, physical environment. Now it's a son playing a team that you grew up playing for."
Manning has experienced conflicted stress before. He had to watch Eli, the quarterback of the New York Giants, and Peyton play against one another in the 2006 season. The Colts won, and Archie and Olivia were basically miserable.
"Olivia and I just rooted real hard for the offense," Manning said while visiting the Super Bowl media center this week.
The first couple of the NFL was rewarded for this ultimate son vs. son duel by getting to watch each win Super Bowls back to back in the 2006 and 2007 seasons.
"I think Olivia and I have kind of been pinching ourselves ever since," Manning said.
Peyton versus Eli II will happen again next regular season, and there is that day in which they could go against one another in a Super Bowl.
"That will be difficult but great at the same time," Manning said.
So Manning can handle Sunday's Super Bowl between his son and his city, where he has lived off St. Charles Avenue with his Ole Miss homecoming queen from Philadelphia, Miss., since the Drew, Miss., native was drafted from the Rebels by the Saints with the second overall pick in 1971.
"It kind of magnifies the joy really," Manning said. "I'm just like everyone else who's been associated with the Saints. I'm very proud of the Saints. And this year we're so excited for the Colts and Peyton to come back and play in another one, but for the Saints to be here, too. Wow. We're just trying to enjoy the journey."
Part of Manning wants to be a Who Dat. After the Colts beat the Jets in the AFC title game, Archie and Peyton and other family and friends watched the NFC title game at Peyton's home in Indianapolis and cheered hard for the Saints to beat the Vikings to reach their first Super Bowl.
"It was a great moment, and I did think about a lot of my old teammates and how much we tried and all the frustration and disappointment," Manning told the Times Picayune's Bob Marshall, who covered him in the 1970s. "I was thinking especially about the guys who are gone. Guys who passed away such as Del Williams (offensive guard from the Saints inception in 1967 through 1973) and Al Dodd (a receiver from 1969-71 out of Northwestern State), who never got to enjoy this. I know they would have been really excited and happy."
Manning never had a winning season amid countless sacks, injuries and seven head coaches through parts of 12 seasons. The best was 8-8 in 1979. There was a 2-11-1 season in 1972, a 2-12 campaign the year they opened the dome in 1975, a 3-11 season in 1977 and the worst ever - 1-15 in 1980.
"And that was the year we were supposed to be real good," Manning chuckled.
That was also the year of "The Aints." Fans wore bags on their heads for disguise and booed constantly through the 0-14 start.
"Cooper and Peyton were going to the games," Manning said. "They were 4 and 6 at the time, and they were enjoying it but not really knowing what was going on. Olivia was pregnant with Eli, and I'm having one of those games. So round about the fourth quarter, Cooper turns to Olivia and asks if he and Peyton could boo, too."
Archie and the Saints beat the Jets in week 15 to escape a winless season. Peyton and the Colts beat the Jets to get to their second Super Bowl in four years. The Saints nearly opposite equaled the 1980 start this season with a record 13-0 opening before finishing the regular season 13-3.
"He was always the same," Peyton Manning said. "He'd always sign autographs for all the fans after the games - most of these times after tough losses. But I couldn't tell at the time. I didn't really know if they won or lost. I remember the bags on the heads, but I don't think we wore them. My dad would always come out after the game and get us on the field and spend a little time with us no matter what happened in the game."
While Olivia kept the bags away and had to tell her boys not to boo, Archie is not even considering returning the favor to Peyton. He won't boo him or cheer for the Saints.
"Right off the bat, I told people, 'Look, I'm so excited and happy for the Saints to be here, but I'm going to be pulling for my son.' And I think most people understand that. Anybody who thinks any different must not have children."
But he can still revel like any Who Dat until kickoff.
"When that kick went through (Garrett Hartley's 40-yard field goal in overtime to beat Minnesota), I was just thrilled," Manning said. "That's what I was thinking about."
Archie and Peyton - like father like son - each said in separate interviews this week that they wished they could have been in the city after the game.
"In a way, I wish they weren't playing my son's team because I'd like to be a little more part of the madness because it's CRAZY down there," Manning said. "It's such a great story - the attention that it's bringing to the city, the post Katrina part and what this organization and these players have done in our community because we still are rebuilding down there. We need people to come to New Orleans. We're a destination city. People need to come. It's a happening. And you know the city deserves this after all we've been through."
Manning, whose own home was damaged by Katrina and looted in its aftermath, understands losing as well as anyone. But he also saw all this reversal of Saints' fortune coming.
"To tell you the truth, I wasn't surprised," he said. "I thought they were the best team in the NFC all year. And I thought they'd beat the Vikings. And I always thought the Saints were going to get to a Super Bowl one day."
When Manning played with the Saints, a Super Bowl was a day hard to even imagine. Only in 1979 did Manning and the Saints have a legitimate chance of qualifying late in the season. Manning finished his career with the Houston Oilers in 1982-83 and Minnesota Vikings in 1983-84, but the hex continued. He never saw the playoffs until his sons brought him there.
"I think the football gods rewarded him for his pain as a player," Daniels said. "If Archie was with the Dolphins during those years, they would have been ridiculous. He would have won a lot of Super Bowls if he had played on a good team. What's funny is, both of his sons are pure pocket passers. Archie was the original scrambling quarterback out of the SEC. He's probably the greatest running quarterback in SEC history. The fans always loved him even though the Saints never won when he was there, and they still love him."
Some actually do not understand, though, that he will be pulling for his son tonight.
"I got a few people evidently on the radio and their blogs that have gotten on me," Manning said. "There's still a few people that take it hard, but I think I've kind of gotten a pass pretty much down there."
Peyton gives his dad much more than a pass and probably would not mind him pulling for the Saints a little tonight.
"My dad was never one of my coaches, but he was always my role model," he said. "What always makes me feel good about my dad is the people from New Orleans who tell me how appreciative they are for how he was always active in the community going back to when he was drafted by the Saints and how he lived year round in New Orleans and contributed to the community and made it his home. People tell me how much they like my dad for the person that he was and is. That always makes you feel good. It's just been nice to have a guy who's been down the road before to set a good platform for me. I'm sorry we've got to play the Saints in the Super Bowl, because dad is really excited for his old team and for New Orleans."